The INTERACT Project

Last year I’ve moved to Bristol to work on the INTERACT project. Here’s the official description:

INTERACT is a 6-year NIHR Programme Grant (PGfAR) that focuses on developing and evaluating a new, technology-enabled model of delivering psychological treatment (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for adults with depression in UK primary care. It brings together a large, multi-disciplinary team, including mental health academics and practitioners, human-computer interaction researchers, software engineers and end users. We aim to design, develop and evaluate new technologies that have the potential for wide-spread use within the NHS. A core aim of the INTERACT project is to develop technologies that supported integrated treatments, incorporating flexible levels of both computer and human support.

You can read a bit more about the project here.

The project has 3 main stages:

  1. Design and development of the INTERACT platform
  2. Pilot evaluation with further development
  3. Randomised Controlled Trial

I’m involved in the first two stages. This year my job has been to design the platform, which we are building from scratch. I’ve been interviewing therapists, running design workshops and testing our prototypes with people who had CBT for depression in the past. We’ve also reviewed mental health apps and ran an online survey about them to find out what features people find the most useful and engaging, and what are the best approaches to facilitating user engagement. It feels like I’m constantly switching hats: one day I’m an academic, then I’m a UX Designer, and then suddenly I’m a Project Manager. I will need to write a separate post about our ethics application, because it was a difficult, sometimes frustrating, but necessary and educational process; I’ve learned A LOT. Doing research with vulnerable populations is hard and I had to adapt my approaches and, for example, rethink how to run design workshops.

Next year we will be piloting the platform and I’m really looking forward to it, because that will be even more challenging. We will recruit a few therapists who over several months will deliver actual high-intensity therapy to actual patients suffering from actual depression. This is both scary and exciting. We will be involving the therapists in the co-design process and will interview patients. The core functionality will already be there, of course, but we will be adapting and changing the platform to make sure it helps to deliver the best possible treatment.

But… But what is this platform you’re talking about?

Thanks for asking! So INTERACT is also the name of the online platform for delivering high-intensity CBT for depression. At the beginning of the treatment, patients receive login details and can access the platform to watch introductory materials, learn about CBT, depression, etc. and prepare for their first therapy session. This first session is face-to-face, to help them get to know their therapist. However, all consecutive sessions are then conducted via the platform. They are scheduled as regular sessions, but they take place online, via instant messaging, phone calls or a combination of both.

Therapists and patients can also share worksheets via the platform and work on them together during online sessions, which is really exciting. Between sessions, patients can access videos and reading materials, and work on worksheets shared by the therapist. For example, patients can add a new entry to their mood diary on their phone, update the entry with more details on their computer at home, and then share it with the therapist before the next therapy session. Everything in one place.

So far the feedback from usability testing sessions have been positive and we’ve got a ton of suggestions how to improve things. In the next couple of months we will be running role-playing sessions with therapists to test patient-therapist interactions. Will be interesting to see how things pan out in practice.

If you would like to know more, work with mental health / CBT or simply would fancy a chat about designing for vulnerable populations (or for health and wellbeing more broadly), do get in touch!

~Falka, 10 December 17